PITTSBURGH – As the saying goes, if you play with fire – or Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller – you’re going to get burned.
The Irish speedster hauled in first half touchdown grabs of 47 and 46 yards, then later cashed in from 14 yards out to pace No. 5 Notre Dame in a rare wire-to-wire road victory, winning 42-30 at Pittsburgh.
Fuller’s career best three-touchdown day highlighted a five-touchdown effort by quarterback DeShone Kizer. The redshirt-freshman tied a program record by additionally finding Torii Hunter, Jr., and freshman running back Josh Adams for scores.
“He’s well-supported, he has five guys in front of him on that offensive line that do a great job,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of his rookie triggerman. “If he’s out there distributing the football and dropping them in there, he’s going to look pretty good.”
Kizer finished 19 of 26 on the afternoon with 262 yards and no interceptions, adding a two-yard rushing score late to punctuate the proceedings.
Fuller’s seven-catch, 152-yard day was his best in both regards since a six reception, 142-yard outing in the season opener against Texas.
“I would put him up there with anybody in the country,” said Kelly. “If you double zone (Fuller) we can run the football, we have other weapons, but he’s the guy that opens things up for everyone else.”
Notre Dame lost senior rusher C.J. Prosise to what was described as a head/neck/shoulder injury late in the first quarter but Adams starred in his stead, ripping off gains of 25, 24, and 23 yards en route to a career-best 143 yards on 18 carries.
“He’s a big physical kid,” said Kelly of Adams. “Keeps his feet moving. As you saw he’s very difficult to tackle. He’s only going to get bigger, faster, and stronger and it’s going to be exciting to watch him develop.”
Adams had plenty of help as the Irish offensive front paved ample running lanes inside.
“I think that was the best performance of our offensive line this year to date,” Kelly added. “The most consistent performance for four quarters, and I think that was the difference today for us for offense to really be productive, particularly in the scoring zone.”
Notre Dame scored four touchdowns on its four trips inside the Panthers 20-yard line.
NOT GOING AWAY
Pittsburgh twice pulled within 11 points in the second half with extended touchdown drives but Notre Dame answered both with scores of their own, extending to a 28-10 lead on Fuller’s third trip to pay dirt, then again to pull ahead 35-17 on a Kizer shuffle pass behind scrimmage to Adams.
The latter scored occurred shortly after freshman linebacker Te’Von Coney recovered a surprise onside kick attempt by the Panthers at the 2:06 mark of the third quarter.
Kizer’s aforementioned rushing score at the 5:47 mark provided a commanding 42-17 advantage but Pittsburgh answered with a deep touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd shortly thereafter. They pulled to within twelve points, 42-30, after Panthers linebacker Matt Galambos sacked backup quarterback Brandon Wimbush whose subsequent fumble was returned 32 yards by Ejuan Price for a stunning score.
Notre Dame’s Cole Luke broke up Pittsburgh’s ensuing two-point conversion pass that would have cut the Irish lead to 10, then fifth-year senior captain Matthias Farley recovered the Panthers subsequent onside kick to seal the victory.
“A little disappointed in things that happened late.,” said Kelly. “We had a blown coverage and we were sloppy with the football, otherwise that would have been our best effort (since Texas).”
Notre Dame outgained their hosts 437 to 398, possessing the football for more than five game minutes.
The 8-1 Irish host Wake Forest next Saturday in South Bend before taking to the road for their final two regular season contests.